Merlin was pacing. He thought that he must've worn a groove before Arthur's door, and he'd certainly mangled the hem of his jacket from worrying at it; he'd closed his hands into his fists to keep from picking at the cloth, but now his fingernails were digging into the palms of his hands. And he would have to pare them sooner or later. He'd left it too long. Left everything too long. His mouth was dry.
If Arthur could've seen him, he would've remarked tartly that Merlin was making him anxious.
There was nothing for it. Arthur had to find out about the magic sooner or later--they'd already had far too many close scrapes, far too many inexplicable but fortuitous "coincidences." It was better to admit everything now, before the next harrowing martial escapade forced him to call on his powers. Or, for that matter, before Arthur caught Merlin using magic to shine his boots.
He paused, licked his lips, and carefully pried his fingernails from his palms. Terror was making him ill. With his gut churning uncomfortably, Merlin screwed up his courage and threw the door open.
Arthur regarded him steadily from his chair. "There's a custom in Camelot," he said. "When people want to enter a room, they make a fist, like this" and he closed his gloved fist, holding it up for examination "and then they bang it against the door. We call it knocking."
"I need to speak to you," said Merlin. He reasoned that knocking could safely be mastered once he'd sorted out whether he would be executed in the near future.
Sighing, Arthur stripped his gloves off and tossed them down on the table. "You seem to have got it into your head that you can speak with me whenever you like. It's really very irregular."
"This is important. I have to confess ... to confess something," Merlin said softly. He forced himself to take one step closer, and then another. This might not be so bad, he thought; if he can joke with me like this, he wouldn't execute me directly after, would he? Soon enough, he was standing with his hand upon the table, most emphatically not picking up Arthur's glove and worrying at it. To stop his hands shaking and picking and digging, he clasped one of Arthur's hands in both of his own.
Arthur looked up at him. Merlin felt a sudden fondness for that upturned face, which he had seen in the pallor of illness and the dreamy-eyed oblivion of love; he remembered how willingly Arthur had laid down his life in trade for Merlin's, and his own terror that he had failed to defend his prince. "Let's hear it," said Arthur.
And dammit, his mouth was dry again. Merlin licked his lips, closing his eyes as he summoned the willpower to--
Arthur exploded with laughter.
Merlin found this very rude.
"I know what this is about!" cried Arthur, breaking into another gale of laughter. Merlin's blood all went cold at once--but there was Arthur, laughing uproariously, squeezing at Merlin's hand as though it was just so terribly funny that his servant had been hiding magical prowess from him for nigh on a year.
Given the circumstances, Merlin felt that he had every right to demand an explanation. "You ... you know what this is about, do you," he hazarded.
Arthur made what was likely a very sincere effort at composing himself. "I mean--it's endearing, really, that you've considered it a secret. Even more endearing that you've come to me to confess. But you can't imagine I haven't seen the evidence, can you? You've practically been advertising it to everyone you meet!"
Merlin pressed his lips tightly together and swallowed. It was a good sign that Arthur was amused, wasn't it? A sign that meant Merlin wasn't likely to be executed? "Do you think your father knows?" he asked. "About ... I mean ..."
"He never notices anything like that," answered Arthur at once. "Even among the knights" he lowered his voice to an intrigued breath of sound "I've heard of practices that likely would've gotten them locked up, if my father had got wind of them."
Suddenly, Merlin had the sense that the conversation was getting away from him. "You don't think it's dangerous, then. You're--you're all right with it."
"Of course I'm all right with it," said Arthur, and then he rose from his chair and kissed Merlin full upon the mouth.
Merlin had faced evil sorceresses, Questing Beasts, undead knights, and one extremely tenacious rat--and even numbered among these formidable opponents, this kiss solidly won the award for most unusual thing that had ever happened to him.
He managed to place his hands on Arthur's hips without major incident, and even parted his lips when the brush of Arthur's tongue seemed to suggest that such partings would be highly encouraged. Arthur made a rough, hungry sound that vibrated against Merlin's lips, and Merlin wondered if a man could literally die from sexiness.
Rather sadistically, Arthur drew back just a fragment of an inch--just far enough that his every word ghosted warm air over Merlin's lips. "It doesn't need to be complicated," he whispered.
"No, definitely no complication here," Merlin agreed, half-breathless.
"So we're good?"
"We're good," answered Merlin at once, and he crossed that fingernail of space between them to kiss Arthur again.
There were probably more efficient ways to shut the door than to press the crown prince against it and kiss him incoherent, but none of those ways was half as fun.
By the time they'd parted enough to breathe--much less to think--they were lying at an angle on Arthur's bed, and Merlin's jacket and neckerchief had gone missing. Arthur's shirt was falling off of his shoulder; the Questing Beast's bite had left a thick ridge of a scar there, and Merlin's fingers stilled on the shining-pink flesh. "I'd thought you were dead for certain," he whispered.
"Well, I'm not," said Arthur brusquely. "Can we have a tender moment later? I'm in a state."
"A state of idiocy," laughed Merlin, and for that Arthur had to box his ears. "Don't go getting familiar because I let you kiss me," he said sternly, shifting to straddle Merlin's waist.
"Are you kidding? You kissed me!"
"Didn't see you complaining--" and Merlin didn't complain when Arthur kissed him again. This kiss was slower, though, and more leisurely; as though they had all the time in the world to kiss one another and rock their hips together.
In a space between kisses, Merlin murmured, "You're sure it's not dangerous? If someone found out ..."
"Relax, Merlin. It's not as though we're practicing sorcery here."
Merlin felt a chill between his shoulderblades. He nerved himself up to say something, anything that he'd meant to say.
Then Arthur's hips shifted just right against his own, and he had to grab Arthur by the hair and drag him down to be kissed.
Perhaps, decided Merlin, some confessions were simply not meant to occur.